By Toby Holloway
A survey conducted by Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre has revealed that a non-existent and entirely fictitious person, Elwyn Davies, is in fact Wales’ second-most recognisable Member of the European Parliament (MEP).
The survey was a part of the 2016 Welsh Election Study, an exploration of voting, political attitudes and political knowledge in Wales, and gave respondents 30 seconds to answer the question:
“Wales is represented by four Members in the European Parliament. Which, if any, of the following people are among Wales’ four representatives in the European Parliament?”
Six options were given as an answer to the question, two of which were real MEPs and the other four of which were made up names. There were four real MEPs used in the survey, and two of these were always present in a random list of names, the other four of which were fictional.
Welsh MEP Nathan Gill was the most widely recognised name, with 16 per cent of respondents having known his name. However, his imaginary friend (and apparently, colleague), Elwyn Davies, was only 4 per cent behind, with 12 per cent of those surveyed selecting his name.
Jill Evans, who has been an actual MEP for Wales for 17 years, was less recognisable than Mr Davies, as were Derek Vaughan and Kay Swinburne, whose name was only recognised by 6 per cent of participants.
Discussing the findings, Professor Roger Scully, Acting Director of the Wales Governance Centre, and Principal Investigator for the 2016 Welsh Election Study, said: “It’s difficult to know what to say about some of these results. It is, I think, probably unsurprising that Nathan Gill came top, given the higher profile that his role in the Assembly election was giving him.
“But none of the other Welsh MEPs were selected by a greater proportion of the WES respondents that that legendary figure in Welsh politics ‘Elwyn Davies’ – whose contributions to our national political life I feel I need not elaborate upon. Even Jill Evans, who had been an MEP for Wales for almost 17 years at the time this survey was implemented, had her name selected by fewer people than chose the mysteriously popular Mr Davies. For Kay Swinburne, Conservative MEP for Wales since 2009, the picture is even worse: her name was picked out barely more than any of the false names listed.”
Professor Scully added: “I spent much of the early part of my academic career studying the European Parliament; one of the things that my research impressed on me was that most MEPs are very hard working individuals. Yet the efforts of Wales’ four current representatives in the EU’s elected chamber do not appear to have had much impact on the public. Barely one-fifth of our entire sample were able to correctly choose the name of an actual MEP from those presented before them. And some of those apparently correct answers may even have been guesses, as almost as many respondents picked names that turned out to be false.
“We will, of course, very likely be losing our MEPs when the UK leaves the European Union. But on these results, it seems fair to say that most of the Welsh public are unlikely to notice.”